Once again we get a shockingly disgusting report about the Vallejo PD, and once again there will be an "investigation" into whether the department's officers are just awful human beings.
Earlier this week, the news site Open Vallejo reported that a ritual existed among the city's trigger-happy cops in which they would bend the tips of their star-shaped badges to commemorate — or celebrate — fatal shootings of civilians. Each time an officer in the department killed someone in the line duty, according to Open Vallejo's investigation, the event would be marked with "beers and backyard barbecues," in addition to the badge-bending ritual.
There have been 30 fatal officer-involved shootings in the last two decades, and seven officers account for nearly a third of these — each of them allegedly with multiple bends on their badges. As Open Vallejo notes, one officer, Steve Darden, has shot and killed four people.
Former SWAT team member and department captain John Whitney allegedly called for an investigation into the practice last year, following the shooting of Willie McCoy — who was asleep behind the wheel of his car in a Taco Bell drive-through when officers woke him and, because he had a gun in his lap, fatally shot him.
Marc McCoy, Willie's brother, tells the Chronicle that he's not surprised by news of the badge-bending tradition. "It kind of backs up what everybody has been saying or hearing," he says.
Whitney is now casting himself as a whistleblower, saying he was dismissed from the department after he brought his concerns about officer misconduct to the mayor and city manager last year. His attorney, Alison Berry Wilkinson, told the Chronicle this week that he was let go last August after 19 years with the department "for expressing his professional opinions on a variety of misconduct issues within the Police Department." Whitney filed a claim seeking back pay and benefits back in February, and it is just now coming to light, nearly two months after an officer in the department killed another young man, Sean Monterrosa.
Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan, himself a former police confirmed to Open Vallejo that he saw bent badges in the 2000s, under former Police Chief Robert Nichelini, who had replaced the department's badges with seven-point stars back in 2003. But Nichelini denied that any such practice existed, saying, "I believe this is a figment of someone’s imagination."
Now, current Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams says he is conducting his own investigation, and tells NBC Bay Area that such a practice would never be acceptable in his department.
"I’m doing an official inquiry into the allegations,” Williams says. “The inquiry will help me understand the culture of the department in a greater way and take corrective action."
Melissa Nold, one of the attorneys representing the Monterrosa family, tells NBC Bay Area, "These sort of gang culture things, notches on your belt, doing something to commemorate harming people, it’s gang culture."
And another brother of Willie McCoy, Kori McCoy, tells the station, "We called it an execution, what happened to lil Willie. The Vallejo Police Union is the strongest entity and the most powerful entity in the City of Vallejo and they have been calling the shots in that city for close to two decades."
Vallejo Police Union President Michael Nicholini, who is himself now on leave apparently in connection with the destruction of the windshield that was evidence in the Monterrosa shooting, tells NBC Bay Area that the badge-bending thing is a fiction that is meant "to drive a narrative that doesn’t exist."